Man Utd must beat Sheffield Utd this weekend, or they can say goodbye to the top-four
In my ideal world, Sir Alex Ferguson would be perfectly healthy and ageless. He would continue to lead Manchester United, and we’d still be winning the English Premier League (EPL) title every season.
But of course, an ideal is just that - an ideal. Although sometimes, things can go so well that you actually achieve it. Take for instance fifth-place Sheffield United, who have surpassed all expectations and surprised every pundit in the world - including our gold-maned oracle, Ivan - with their positive performances and results this season.
The last time Man Utd faced the Blades in the EPL was in 2007, where goals from Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney gave Ferguson’s team an easy 2-0 win. Since then, Sheffield have been relegated, twice, were bottom of the third-tier League One, and have worked their way back up to the EPL (thanks for that information, Twitter).
This time, however, it won’t be so easy for us to beat Sheffield, especially since we will find ourselves under extra pressure on Monday morning (SGT).
The pressure will come from the fact that there is a golden opportunity for us to close the gap on the top-four this matchweek, as third-place Chelsea will face fourth-place Manchester City on Sunday.
This means that either one, or both those teams will drop points this weekend. With about a third of the season gone, and Man Utd trailing the clubs bankrolled by Russian and Arab oil money by a sizeable 10 and nine points respectively, it is imperative that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his men seize all three points against Sheffield if they are to stand a chance of finishing in the top-four this season.
But first, Man Utd will have to find a way to stop John Lundstram, or Lord Lundstram, as Fantasy Premier League (FPL) players have nicknamed him. For those not in the know, Lundstram is listed as a defender in the game, but has been deployed in an attacking midfield role, where he has excelled and given FPL managers a ton of points along the way.
Only a manager like Chris Wilder could have thought of that. Speaking of whom, Wilder is another reason why Man Utd cannot take things for granted against Sheffield.
Because Wilder isn’t your typical manager. For example, here’s what he said after Sheffield’s defeat against Leicester. “I'm not going to applaud, credit or reward the players because they run around. Whatever the supporters do after is up to them but for me it's a normal, natural thing to do and if they don't they won't play.
“I'm not pleased with effort because that is just a bog standard thing for me. Cheers for effort doesn't tick a box for me.”
I love it, and I think his brutal honesty is why the Blades are doing so well this season. He doesn’t believe in playing to their stature as a small-club, nor does he use it as an excuse for their defeats. He constantly demands more from his players, and expects them to win every game. And that winning mentality has served Sheffield well, as evidenced by their position in the table.
Thankfully for Man Utd, Sheffield’s first-choice goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who is on-loan from the Red Devils, won’t be available to play against his parent club.
There has been plenty said about Sheffield’s defensive prowess this season, and a lot of that has to do with Henderson. Taking him out of this Sheffield side is like replacing metal vaults in the banks with wooden boxes and removing all security guards. That’s how vulnerable Sheffield will be. So there, at least, is a ray of hope of Man Utd.
But there’s another reason why Man Utd have to beat Sheffield, and it’s got to do with ex-manager Jose Mourinho.
Because Mourinho’s return to the EPL as manager of Tottenham Hotspur can give them a huge boost. After all, if anyone can revitalise a big club down on its fortunes, it’s Mourinho. That’s what he did for Man Utd…until his third season, when he starts to get into arguments with practically everyone for just being in his sight.
So despite Spurs’ current woes, they still have to be considered a serious contender for a spot in the top-four. They have quality players within their ranks, and with Mourinho in charge, there’s a very real chance that they can overtake us if we’re not careful.
All of which points to the fact that Man Utd can ill-afford to drop points right now, and is why this weekend’s match against Sheffield has become so crucial.
So there should really be enough reasons for Man Utd players to give their 100 per cent against Sheffield. Because if, even with all that motivation, a promoted team without its best player can still beat us, then we might as well just say goodbye to finishing in the top-four this season.